Fallen Stars

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Repetition 1.13

Alarms rang through the hallway. Kyosu ran as fast as he could, panting for breath as his heart pounded in his chest. A doorway at the end of the hallway was labeled as being the main office of the detention cell block, and moments ago Ariel had disappeared behind it.

C’mon, he thought to himself, Don’t tell me that she just ran into a trap – surely we’re ahead of the soldiers. He shook his head and kept going, a short smirk on his sweaty face. He bit down on his lip, and put his hands out towards the door. He shoved his way through and the door flung open with a clang of steel.

Kyosu stumbled into the round room behind Ariel. Her hands were already in the air, and a group of men in helmets readying their rifles to fire was the first thing he heard. His mind stopped and he nearly crashed into Ariel. Her hands were raised in the air and he instinctively did the same as he looked around the room. There were at least thirty armed guards aiming assault rifles at the two of them, each with tinted visors over their faces. Their uniforms were each a dark, navy blue, letting them almost blend into the metal walls behind them.

“Well, shit,” he muttered as he turned his head around to Ariel. None of the guards said a word, and with a short look around he didn’t see anyone who was clearly a superior officer for them. “Looks like they really overestimated our abilities.”

“Shut up,” Ariel hissed under her breath as the men fidgeted slightly. “Don’t provoke them.”

The guards said nothing, but they did seem to lean in further as the two talked. Their fingers were on the triggers and a single muscle twitch could have turned the entire room into one full of live fire. Kyosu gulped and looked around slowly. It wouldn’t have been so bad, except he had a feeling that these men weren’t the kind to think for themselves.

He took this time to look around the room more. It was round, as he had noticed, and the soldiers surrounded the walls around the entrance he had entered in. But the cell blocks were visible extending out to the sides, labeled as “CELL BLOCK A” to the right and “CELL BLOCK B” to the left. Ahead was a door that had no label, but no guards stood in front of it like they did with the two cell blocks.

The thirty guards were split into groups of fifteen on either side, blocking entrance to either cell blocks, and with those in the front lowered onto one knee or another. Ariel and Kyosu stood there in silence for minutes before the door ahead of them opened up slowly.

That the man coming out was an officer was clear, although it was not clear what rank he was. While his uniform was different enough to mark him as one, he wore no decorative pieces to signify his rank. He, like the others, wore a helmet with a visor over his head. Unlike them, however, his visor was up to reveal a face clearly in its thirties, with mud brown eyes. He smiled, and put an open, sideways hand up in front of him. “Stand down.” His voice was deep and large, and it resonated through the room with a certain power.

The guards lowered their weapons and took their fingers off the trigger, but the sheer numerical advantage was more than enough to make it clear the two had no chance to get out of here on their own terms.

The officer turned his eyes on Ariel, and didn’t even bother hiding that they wandered up and down her body. She shivered and looked away. He smiled and licked his lips before he spoke with that same deep voice: “The redhead is awfully pretty, isn’t she? Handcuff the both of them.”

Four men stepped forward, their visors hiding all emotion as two of them holstered their rifles. The two that did soon produced handcuffs from somewhere on their uniforms, although it looked as if the cuffs had simply materialized to Kyosu and Ariel.

“Hg- don’t grab so hard!” Kyosu said as one of them yanked his arms down from above his head. He let out a short gasp of pain at the tightness of the handcuffs, and glowered at the faceless men who had just put the cuffs on him.

“Take the boy to Cell Block A, bring the girl to me,” the officer said before he turned away from the two. Kyosu tried to step forward towards him, but the guard who had handcuffed him simply grabbed his arms and yanked him back. Kyosu gritted his teeth and watched as, without another word, the officer disappeared into his office. Kyosu glared at the door, but didn’t fight too hard. It wasn’t as if he could do anything with how he was.

Ariel said nothing as the guards pulled her hands down, letting them move her limbs with little resistance. Kyosu started to open his mouth, but was quickly met with a swift jab in the back. “Move!” barked the man behind him, and he only lingered his gaze on Ariel for a few more moments before complying. Her eyes were on the floor and her mouth hung open slightly as the handcuffs locked around her wrists.

“Emerald Knight will save us somehow,” he said as he let the guard’s gun on his back guide his movement, a hard jab forcing him to move slightly faster. “I promise he will!”

“Shut up!” the guard slammed the barrel of his gun against Kyosu’s back, and the boy let out a gasp of pain before he bit down on his tongue, holding his mouth shut. He’d get out of this if he played his cards right, but it would be easy to slip up.

Ariel watched as Kyosu was taken through the doorway into the cell block, her eyes full of tears from fright and anger. She was sure that somewhere in here Christina was waiting for her, held against her will, but there was nothing she could do except let the naval officer have his way. She shuddered at the thought of what he wanted her for, and closed her eyes tightly.

“You’ll get through it for her,” she mouthed to herself, not even a whisper escaping from her lips. The guard grabbed her arms and pushed her forward. With a grunt of pain at the sudden force she walked at the guard’s guiding, the door to the office approaching. She closed her eyes tightly as her body shook, this wasn’t how it was supposed to go. If it hadn’t been for whoever set those alarms off...

One of the other guards opened the office without a word, and Ariel was thrown into the room. She stumbled forward before crashing onto the floor, her chin hitting the steel floor with a crack. She nearly bit her tongue when her jaw was forced shut by the sudden fall, and when her body hit the floor the wind was knocked out of her. She closed her eyes as tears formed, and held back a sob of pain. Her entire body ached now, and she was no closer to saving Christina.

The door shut behind her, and there was silence. She didn’t see the officer, but felt something brush against her side – no, against both sides. She shuddered when she felt a thin, long set of fingers wrap around her right arm. The officer stepped back and lifted. She stumbled about as her weight was forced up by her arms, and her left leg stepped forward to balance slightly.

“That fall did a bit of damage, didn’t it? I thought I told those incompetent morons I wanted you unharmed.” His voice was no longer the booming voice of authority. It was like the voice of someone bitter, but not entirely frustrated. “Whatever. You’re still useful.”

“W-what do you want?” Ariel asked as she tried to turn her head around, to look at the man whose hands were wandering her arms. “Please...please don’t hurt me,” she whimpered when his grip tightened. The man laughed and threw her forward – with a crash she landed in a small, unmade bed.

“A lonely man on a ship full of men and hard-ass women, what do you think I want?” the officer asked as he rolled his eyes and chuckled. “Company, you might say.” The man walked forward and towards the unmade bed, the lightbulb in the room casting his shadow over Ariel. Her eyes were wide as she shook. Tears rolled down her cheeks and she could taste blood from... her tongue? She wasn’t sure, but she was bleeding inside her mouth at least.

The man’s shadow seemed to disappear for a moment, and then there was a short moment of utter silence. The man stopped in his tracks as soon as he realized his shadow was gone, and turned around. Everything seemed normal, and he turned back to Ariel. She was shaking as she made short, gasping begs of “No,” over and over again.

The shadows that hung over the bed disappeared one at a time, and the man opened his mouth. “Wh-” escaped before suddenly, his face was covered in darkness. He jumped slightly before his hands went to his face, trying to find out what was covering it. “What did you do?” he asked, fingers gliding through the shadows coating him. “I can’t see!”

Ariel pushed down with her arms and sat up in the bed as the officer stepped backwards and ran into his desk. He swore loudly and stumbled forward, falling face first into the bed. Ariel turned her body in an awkward, clumsy motion, before bringing one of her legs down onto his neck. He let out a pained shout and pushed his body up from the bed, and Ariel pulled her leg back as he did so.

“You little slut, I’ll make you pay,” he snarled through the darkness that surrounded him as he stood up. He reached out in her general direction, hands and arms both wide open. Clumsily he managed to grab her shirt and pull at it. Ariel kicked both feet at both his stomach and crotch, and the moment her legs fully extended a short shout came from his mouth. He stumbled back as his hands went forward, and in moments he was slumped down and onto the ground, gasping for breath. Ariel moved to stand up and off of the bed, looking down at the officer with a short smirk.

“God it hurts” he gasped as he tried to regain his breath, “Oh, you’re.. you’re gonna regret that,” he said between gasps, slowly rolling onto his back and looking up at the darkness of the shadows Ariel had covering his face.

“Am I?” Ariel asked as she walked around him, careful to make her steps as light as possible. The man groaned in pain and nodded, and she gave him a hard kick in the side – he let out a shout and reached out to grab her leg, but she moved out of range before he had a chance. “You have the keys for these handcuffs, right?”

“No,” the officer hissed through his teeth. Ariel met his answer with a quick kick to the neck. He swore silently and whimpered, but said nothing else as his hands slid down his body. She smiled as they reached into a small pocket on his pants, and the officer removed a ring. He managed to hoarsely whisper, “It’s the smallest one,” as he rose a shaking hand.

“Throw it to your right,” she said – to his right was the bed, and she’d rather not try picking it up off the floor. “As high as you can.”

He threw the key ring high into the air, and it landed on the bed with a soft pat. She slammed a foot down and onto his neck, but with the wind already having been knocked out of him twice in a row he was in no position to fight back. He grabbed onto her leg but she held firm and pressed down harder. He gasped and choked, sputtering as he tried to pull her leg off of him. But in a short matter of time he fell limp; Ariel stepped back and walked towards the bed. She smiled softly and sniffled; the tears on her face were still wet, but she had stopped producing more at least.

She sat on the bed and reached her hands out behind her, grasping for the keys. When she finally got a hold of them she smiled and quickly stood up, holding the ring in one hand as she used the other to find the key for the cuffs. She smiled when she found an incredibly small key. She bit down on her lips and closed her eyes as she fumbled with the key, trying to desperately find the keyhole. There was a click and the key slid in. She turned it and the hand cuff on her one hand fell off.

She stretched her arms out, the shadows over the officer’s face disappearing and returning to their rightful places in the room. She took the key and unlocked the other cuff, and then paused. She wasn’t in too bad of a spot now, but if the officer woke up...

She smiled as an idea crossed her mind. She stepped next to his unconscious body, the cuffs in hand, and went to work.

“The coast is clear,” Nihilium said as he stepped out of behind the corner, entering another hallway. The alarms here were just as loud, but the intercoms had ordered personnel to protect the host the two had been after; hopefully there’d be few soldiers guarding the rest of the ship.

Raelyn followed silently, the two of them were greatly outnumbered – and without Ariel, had no means of hiding themselves from soldiers. Nihilium had managed to get his power to show him seconds into the future again, providing them just enough time to hide from the few soldiers that had passed by. While he couldn’t look far enough to know what was going to happen at the end of all this, he had a feeling that he could get out alive.

“We shouldn’t have tried this,” Raelyn said softly as she followed him through the narrow passageway. Nihilium said nothing as they walked. “Not now, at least – we were unprepared.”

“You’re not wrong,” Nihilium said as he closed his eyes for just slightly longer than a blink. He nodded after opening them again, and then continued “But we can’t change that we did it. All we can do now is get out of here before it gets worse.”

Raelyn nodded and sighed softly. Nihilium closed his eyes for a second as they passed by a small service closet, and then froze in place. “I can’t see into the future again. Whatever’s messing with my powers is going to happen soon.” The sound of footsteps reached them, and he turned around. Raelyn moved a little slower than he did, and while she was closer to the door he was the one that opened and entered it first. She followed into the cramped closet and closed the door. A crack of light shone through the side, illuminating the closet just enough for them to see each other and the outlines of shelves of cleaning supplies.

“I’m going to try to watch through the crack,” Raelyn whispered to Nihilium. He stepped back as far as he could against the back shelf to make room for the woman to turn around, her body still brushing against his as she turned around. He was able to move back to a more comfortable position though, and put his hands in his pockets. His fingers brushed against the cigarette box in his pocket and he pulled them out.

“I can’t wait to get off of this ship and light one up,” he muttered before putting them back.

“Why, so you can kill yourself later?” she said hissed through her teeth, shooting him a glance.

“Matter of fact, yes.” Nihilium shrugged as he leaned against the shelf, an elbow brushing against a bottle.

Raelyn just gave the man a shush and shook her head, to which he smirked. She pressed an eye against the crack in the doorway and peered through. Two shadows moved down the hallway beside each other, and as she watched the owners of the shadows passed by; a black man clad in armor that looked like it was made out of crystals, and a woman who was wearing the same ridiculous outfit Kyosu was wearing.

“You’re sure that this is the right way?”

“Positive,” the man said as they passed through the middle of the crack. A few moments later and they were out of her sight. “After all, the nice man back there said so.”

Raelyn pulled back from the door and looked at Nihilium. “It’s Emerald Knight and... some girl. That Kyosu kid wasn’t lying.”

What do you think we should do?” Nihilium asked as Raelyn turned to look at him. “I mean... I’d like to live.”

“I think we should at least help,” Raelyn said, no longer keeping her voice low. “They’ve gotten this far by themselves, they can protect us.”

“True enough,” Nihilium said with a nod. He closed his eyes and sighed. “Alright, we’ll help.”

Raelyn opened the door into the hallway and stepped out. The two were a decent distance past where the two of them had been, but as the door hinge’s creaked behind Nihilium the two costumed people stopped. Emerald Knight turned around and the woman did too. She started to raise her guns, but the Emerald Knight put a hand out in front of her.

“Don’t, Bellona – they don’t look like soldiers.” Emerald Knight walked forward slowly, his emerald armor glistened with every step. “I’m Emerald Knight, and this is Bellona – what are you two civilians doing here?”

“We were here to help a friend rescue an Angel host named Christina,” Nihilium said as he walked forward slowly. Raelyn followed, a short smile on her face as she approached. “We ran into your friend Kyosu – he said you’re looking for an Angel host too? I think we’re looking for the same person.”

“You ran into Kyosu? Where is he now?” Bellona asked as she lowered her pistols slowly. She looked between the two of them with eyebrows arched. Raelyn and Nihilium looked at each other for a moment, and then Raelyn nodded.

“We got pretty close to where they had the Angel host before running into trouble. Our friend, Ariel, ran off and Kyosu chased after her, and we were going to follow but we got cut off from them when the captain ordered the soldiers to protect the host.”

Emerald Knight nodded, and Bellona clicked the safeties on her pistols back on. She slipped her hands holding them into her jacket, watching Raelyn all the while. “So he’s near the host?”

“Yes,” Raelyn said with another nod. “He’s in the detention cell block right now probably.”

“We should hurry,” Emerald Knight sad as he turned away – his cape billowed behind him, and he began to walk. Bellona followed him without saying much more “Do you know how to get there from here?”

“Yes,” Nihilium said as he and Raelyn began to follow; not quite simultaneously, but close to it. “Do you want me to lead you there or just give you directions?”

“I’m not one to be led,” Emerald Knight said as he grabbed onto his cape and pulled it close to him. Nihilium and Raelyn caught up with the two of them finally, walking directly behind them now. “Plus you look like someone with a lot less defense than me – are the two of you hosts?”

“No, we just happen to have gotten involved with Angel hosts by chance,” Nihilium said. Emerald Knight opened his mouth but was cut off when Nihilium continued; he threw his cape down when he realized that it had been sarcasm, and once again his cape flowed behind him. “Yes, we are. I’m Nihilium, by the way – thanks for asking – and this is Raelyn.”

“I’m Emerald Knight, as you might know, and this is Bellona,” Emerald Knight said with an artificially loud voice that boomed throughout the passageway. Nihilium smirked as they continued down the hall.

The alarms that rang through the hallways finally began to turn to background noise for Kyosu, the young man’s body aching as he sat down on the cold, hard bed. His arms were still handcuffed behind his back, but he had managed to, very carefully, push himself up and off of the ground earlier. Duringthat, he had managed to get a good look at the cell; it had a small bed on one side, and on the other a sink and mirror. The walls were a cold gray, much like the rest of the ship, and besides those three pieces of furniture there was nothing else in the room.

He shook his head with a resigned sigh. Of course he had managed to mess this up. Yet, at the same time, if it hadn’t been for the alarms going off he was sure that he’d have managed. “Not that it matters,” he muttered as he leaned back into the bed and against the wall. “I just hope Bellona and Emerald Knight are okay... at least I’m safe in here, for the moment.”

There was a the sound of gunfire, and he turned to look at the door. If there was someone shooting out there...

The gunfire died down and was replaced by shouts. An occasional shot echoed throughout the hallway, but only in between the various shouts of “I can’t see!” “What happened to the lights?” and “My flashlight isn’t working, what’s going on?”

Kyosu pulled his body up from the wall so that he was sitting upright. If the guards were suddenly unable to see... was Ariel responsible? He knew she controlled shadows, yet had never seen much more than her usage of them to cloak the group. But the idea of her blinding people was far from unexpected; that he hadn’t thought of her having that ability before surprised him.

Once again it was silent, except for the constant wail of the alarms. Surely the guards were still alive, he thought to himself, but why had they fallen silent? Were they hesitating to call out in the dark, hoping that the girl was also unable to see?

There was a loud thud, followed by the echoing of steel reverberating, outside. There was a shout that he was more than happy to hear a few moments later: “It’s Emerald Knight!”

The sound of gunshots echoed through the air and another thud echoed throughout the hallway. Kyosu grinned as he realized that he would be getting out of here sooner than later. He heard the crack of bones breaking and a pained shout, followed by a banging against the door to his cell. He watched as another round of gunshots went off, and realized that it was clearly Bellona and Emerald Knight both.

“I’m in here!” he shouted as he stood up and off the bed, walking awkwardly across the room. There was a loud crash outside and the sound of someone begging to be let go; the exact words were muffled by the steel, but he could tell that it was one of the guards.

There was the sound of something crashing into the door again and again. Steel snapped with a loud crack, and then everything happened at once.

The door crashed open with a horrible screech. The top hinge broke and it hung down, the bottom hinge groaned with displeasure at the angle it was now at, turning slightly inwards yet. Smoke rose from the dents in the middle of the door, the locks broken off in messy chunks that stuck out of the wall. Standing in the doorway was Emerald Knight, both hands on the top of his hips. His cape fluttering behind him gave the impression of him being even bigger than he was. He threw back his head and laughed out of his belly, before walking through the door.

“They thought they could squash the human spirit, but they were wrong! Just think, Kyosu – even without an Angel’s powers, you were able to get here!”

“I mean, I wouldn’t have been able to without-”

“No matter how you did it, boy! You’re free, and we’ve found Harut’s host – the girl, Ariel, found a map of the detention cell block before we arrived apparently,” Emerald Knight said with a short shrug. His cape fell still, and his heroic stance turned into a normal stance as he turned. “Come on, let’s get those handcuffs off of you and escape.”

Kyosu hesitated for a second before he followed Emerald Knight. Thirty guards lay on the floor, unconscious or dead he couldn’t tell. He turned around at Emerald Knight’s gesture, and looked in at the cell he had been in. He heard a snap, and felt his hands moving back to their place by his side. “Thanks,” he said as he turned back around, but Emerald Knight was already walking again.

“We don’t have time to waste,” Emerald Knight said as his cape fluttered slightly from the movement. “We have to get the host and get out.”

Kyosu nodded and followed, stepping over one of the soldiers on the floor beside him. He looked down at him – the visor made it look as if just another faceless grunt had died, and he shuddered. How many people had their small group killed in this operation?

He looked up and away from the bodies, his eyes looking for anything else to lock onto. His face turned into a grin when he saw Bellona standing in the entrance to the cell block. She was holding her pistols in either hand as she watched the entrance to that they had all entered through, so he knew she hadn’t seen him.

“Bellona!” he shouted, and began to run forward. Bellona turned around to look at him, and a smile came across her face as she flicked her pistols’ safety switches on.

“Kyosu, you’re okay!” she said with a relaxed smile, “I thought you’d be a lot worse off for sure, but I’m glad you aren’t.” She had been holding her hands out, as if to embrace the man, but realized quickly that her pistols were still in her hands; she hardly wanted to risk shooting him.

“I was pretty worried when I heard the alarms, but I couldn’t really do anything about it,” Kyosu said as he stepped up to beside her. He saw that Raelyn and Nihilium had managed to find their way here and gave the two of them a nod, before realizing that Ariel was nowhere to be seen.

“Where’s Ariel”

“She went to get the host already,” Raelyn said as Emerald Knight finally caught up with Kyosu. “We wanted her to wait, but she went ahead.”

“Right, then. We’re all safe for the moment, here – Kyosu, come with me. Bellona, keep look out,” Emerald Knight said as he continued past Kyosu, not even stopping for a moment. Kyosu nodded, and gave Bellona a quick glance. Her focus was on the entrance already though, and the boy began to follow.

“We’ll stay here,” Nihilium said as Emerald Knight passed by. “Don’t want to crowd the hallway if we have to make a break for it.”

“Good idea,” Emerald Knight said as he stepped through the entrance into the other cell block. Kyosu followed behind him, the long hallway stretching back further than the one he had been held in was. Ariel was standing in the hallway further ahead, reading the labels on the side of one of the cell in an inaudible whisper.

“Is that where the host is?” Kyosu asked as they approached; Ariel jumped back slightly and put her hands against the wall. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

“You startled me,” she said with a sigh as she opened her eyes again, looking in their direction now. “I... I don’t know. All the doors have some weird labels, just numbers and letters. No names. Cell codes, guess?”

“Probably,” Emerald Knight said as the two of them came to Ariel’s side finally. He leaned in to look at the label on the door, and nodded. “Cell codes, for sure. But I have an idea of our prisoner’s code; they had one when Stoneheart had them,” he said as he stood up straight again, and began to walk further down the hallway.

“Stoneheart?” Ariel asked as she followed quickly behind Emerald Knight. “I just know Christina was taken a few days ago by some shape shifting creep, what are you talking about?”

Kyosu looked at the steel doors, wondering how many were full and how many empty. There were no windows to see into the rooms, but he had a feeling most of them were empty. After all, with what all had happened, wouldn’t some of the prisoners be shouting for help from whoever had attacked the ship?

He shook his head to clear those thoughts, and almost crashed into Ariel. Emerald Knight had put a hand up and stopped, and there was suddenly silence – he realized that he hadn’t heard a word of Emerald Knight’s explanation of how he knew these things. Kyosu’s face was slightly flushed from embarrassment and he stepped back. Ariel didn’t comment on what Kyosu had done, but instead was occupied entirely with looking at the door Emerald Knight had stopped in front of.

“Is this it?” she asked after a short pause. “Christina’s behind this door?”

“Well,” Emerald Knight said as he looked at it. “The host is. If she’s Christina...”

“She just has to be, Nihilium saw in his vision...”

“Did he see her, or that a girl was on the truck?”

Ariel fell silent, and Emerald Knight put a hand out in front of Ariel. She paused for a few moments, before pulling out the key ring that she had gotten from the officer. She dropped it in Emerald Knight’s hand, and the man began to look for the right key.

A few tense minutes passed as Ariel watched Emerald Knight fiddle with the keys. Kyosu fidgeted as he watched the hallway’s entrance. There was a loud clang as the locks came undone, and Emerald Knight gave the door a push. The hinges slid silently, and the three were met with a dark cell.

“Oh, are we there yet?” a voice asked from the darkness. “Are you three my new friends? I was told I’d make lots of friends at Avalon Bay!”

Ariel stammered – this wasn’t Christina, she could tell so immediately. Had the shape shifter been working for someone else? Was this just the wrong cell?

But, no, it couldn’t have been. This was an Angel host, she was sure of it. Through the darknes she could see that this girl was bound tightly in a straight jacket, her legs tied together and her body left propped up against the wall like some sort of statue. She stepped back, tears in her eyes. It had been for nothing – Christina was still somewhere out there, needing her help.

“Are you the host with nuclear power?” Emerald Knight asked as he stepped into the dark cell. “I am Emerald Knight, and these are my associates Kyosu and Ariel – we’re here to save you.”

“Yes, yes, I am! Little Nero has magic! I can make little suns! Well, that’s what the nice doctors said, at least,” the girl said as she nodded her head vigorously. She paused for a few moments then, and silence fell upon the cell. “Save me from what, Emerald Knight? I’m being taken to meet lots of others my age at Avalon Bay! Oh, it’s going to be so, so much fun! I’ve never had friends!”

“There’s no one there your age,” Emerald Knight said as he crouched down in front of the Angel host, looking into the face of the fourteen year-old. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he was able to make out more details of the host; her red hair was long, messy, and uncleaned. Her green eyes, while dull, glistened in the light that pierced into the room. And the smile across her face... He shivered beneath his armor. “The military wants you for their own purposes, but we want to keep you safe.”

“They... they lied?” she asked, and her smile vanished. It was replaced by trembling lips and twitching eyelids, as the girl looked into the light hallway. “But... but grandfather’s workers said there’d be lots of others like me!”

Emerald Knight shook his head, and placed a hand on the girl’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, but it’s not true.”

“Why would they lie? They know I’m a good girl, I don’t try to do anything bad! I just wanted friends, honest!” She shook her head just as hard as she had nodded earlier. “I don’t believe you! Get away from me!”

The Emerald Knight stepped back as a glow began to come from Nero’s skin; her eyes lit up like green LEDs as her body illuminated the cell. “Go away! I want to meet my new friends at Avalon Bay!”

“She’s been brainwashed by them,” Emerald Knight said as he moved out of the cell and into the hallway; Nero’s skin and eyes continued glowing as she shouted at them to “go away!” again and again. Ariel stood behind Kyosu now, watching the girl’s tantrum from a distance she assumed safe.

Kyosu stepped forward and towards the door. Emerald Knight reached out to grab him, but he brushed the man’s hand off without a word. His eyebrows were furrowed and his hands were balled into fists that shook. He looked down at the still shouting Nero, and stood over her glowing form.

“No,” he said. The girl continued, and he repeated himself: “No!”

Nero fell silent, and looked up at him. She stared through her glowing eyes at the man standing above her, and he paused for a few moments. He hadn’t thought ahead past this part of the plan he had, and now that he was on the spot he froze.

“I... you... Nero, right?” he stumbled through his words like an acrobat with a broken ankle, but Nero nodded. “Nero, we aren’t leaving without you – we risked our lives because we know that what we do is right. I have no Angel, no powers, but I still came to save you from these men. There’s an entire world of people who walk freely in the sunlight, who get to enjoy freedom and life to its fullest. When was the last time you were outside?”

“Outside? It’s been a long, long, long time,” Nero said as she looked down at the floor beneath her. Her skin and eyes stopped glowing, and she said nothing for a long minute. “You’ll take me outside? I haven’t been there since I killed daddy, grandfather said that bad girls don’t get to go outside.”

Kyosu flinched and stepped back at the mention of her killing her father. He looked back to see the other two silently staring in at him, Ariel’s eyes locked on the girl and Emerald Knight’s on his. He swallowed heavily, and stepped forward. “I think that you have all the right to go outside,” he said through a dry mouth, and smiled softly. “If we promise to let you go outside, will you come with us?”

Nero nodded, and as Kyosu stepped forward there was a sudden ringing noise; his hands shot to his ears, but no one else seemed to react. He cringed slightly and Nero watched on with wide eyes, and behind him Ariel and Emerald Knight were silent. Emerald Knight looked at Ariel and then back at Kyosu. Ariel had no words to say, though, she had been fully expecting to find Christina here. Not this Nero girl.

“Grab her and go, there isn’t time to undo her straight jacket,” Emerald Knight said sharply. “We have to get off this ship as fast as possible.” The man in emerald turned and, without another word, vanished into the hallway. Kyosu lifted the girl up from the ground, hoisting her over his shoulder; Nero giggled as he did so, but didn’t move – in the straight jacket, her body was dead weight.

“I’m going to be able to see the outside!” she said with a happy squeal in-between giggles, as if she had forgotten all about her yelling at them to leave her alone. Kyosu entered the hallway and saw that Ariel had already started to walk back the way they had come from. He followed without a word as Nero giggled madly on his shoulder.

“I don’t think I can unpause all of us and keep my power going very long – the most I’ve ever managed was for three people, including me. I don’t think I can get all of us out with time frozen,” Bellona was saying as Kyosu walked into the main room, finding Emerald Knight standing at the doorway still. He looked as if he was impatient to keep going on, and Kyosu couldn’t blame him. It wasn’t as if they had time.

“So we’re unarmed and pretty much powerless when it comes to a fight, up against an entire ship full of soldiers,” Nihilium said as he shook his head. He shrugged slightly, and then sighed. “I guess even without my power, I should have seen this plan falling through pretty quickly.”

“Well, we have nothing else on this ship to look for. We should leave as soon as possible, I figure,” Ariel said as Kyosu walked into the middle of the room. “We have the host, so as far as I’m concerned we’re done.”

“Good point,” Emerald Knight said as he leaned against the doorway to the room and looked back into it. His eyes scanned across the group, and he sighed. “I know you lot can’t hold your own in a fight, so I’ll distract the soldiers – you lot get to the lifeboats as fast as possible, I should be able to get you most of the way there.” Emerald Knight said as he pushed his body away from the door frame. He turned and started down the hall.

There was a short moment of silence, save for Nero’s constant giggling and the sound of alarms, before the rest of the hosts began to follow Emerald Knight. It was far from how they had hoped events would go, but at the same time... hardly the most surprising way.

The hallway lights were dimmed; only the red-tinted emergency lights were on now, and the alarms here had been silenced. It was replaced by the nearly-constant sound of gunfire, which was interrupted occasionally by Emerald Knight’s fists pummeling the soldiers within range – and frequently knocking them into those who were out of his fists’ range. Behind him, the group was hiding in Ariel’s shadows – the soldiers had yet to notice the small group of Angel hosts.

He had tore through the soldiers with sweat rolling off his forehead. He was tired though – that much was clear. While he was still clad in the emerald armor, he found himself unable to summon up new emerald growth, making it now a fist fight with armed gunmen. And while he had taken out at least ten of the soldiers, there were still more.

“I usually like going against the odds,” he panted as he pressed his back against a small indentation on the walls; bullets tore through the air and he wiped shook his head. “But right now... not so much.”

The gunfire stopped, and he heard the soldiers moving forwards; the sound of their boots against the steel floor echoed throughout the hallway, but he could tell they were moving closer. He closed his eyes and breathed in, before swinging out and into the hallway again. His fist crashed into the first soldier’s chest with a thud, and the soldier fell back onto the floor breathless. He turned around and without pausing took out another soldier with a swift uppercut to the jaw.

Suddenly a cascade of pistols firing off filled the hallway instead of the rifles the soldiers carried. Several soldiers fell to the floor in an instant, and he turned his head to see Bellona standing in the hallway behind him with a grin on her face. He began to smile, glad to have had the help even if he wasn’t fond of actually killing these men. She vanished, presumably pausing time before returning to Ariel’s shadows, and there was a shout from someone he assumed to be in command: “Fire on both targets!”

He cringed as bullets tore into his gemstone armor, the kinetic force transferring into his chest. While the bullets didn’t pierce his flesh, he stepped back with a pained gasp and put a hand over his chest.

“Damn,” he gasped as he looked down at the cracked armor – only for the gemstone to heal itself, new growth covering the cracks. A smile spread across his face and he looked up at the soldiers who held their guns level with him. “That hurt.”′

“Multiple targets spotted, prepare to fire on them all!”

Emerald Knight turned his head to see that Ariel was holding a hand over her shoulder, blood pouring out. He swore at himself for letting the girl get hurt, before realizing that that the commander of the group of soldiers intended to fire upon the entire group.

“No!” he shouted, and then there was a sudden flash of light; he flinched as a beam passed by his side far too close for comfort, but relaxed when he realized that it had hit the ground in front of him. There was a crash, and a spear erupted from the ground and pierced through the chest of a soldier; he screamed out as it cut through his stomach and into his chest. Emerald Knight took the momentary pause of the soldiers as a chance to throw back an emerald, the small gem suddenly growing into a barricade between the rest of the group and the soldiers.

“Stay back, keep going down the hallway you’re in, I’ll hold them off!” he shouted back, and then gunfire tore through the air. If the others responded, he didn’t hear it as bullets shattered his armor. More emeralds grew out, the armor getting thicker and thicker. The emerald behind him grew up higher, slowly forming a short wall between him and the others; enough for cover, but not much else.

“We won’t leave you, we’re a team!” Kyosu shouted, running towards the barrier. He ducked down and beneath the emerald wall when the soldiers began firing at him as well, but the wall held.

“Sometimes you have to take one for the team, Emerald Squire!” Emerald Knight shouted back. He punched forward when the gunfire stopped, and his fist crashed into the soldier. “Now go!”

Kyosu’s shouts were drowned out by the sound of gunfire again; Emerald Knight covered his face with his arms, the emerald armor was cracking faster than he could fix it though. A short look behind him showed the barrier beginning to shatter from bullets hitting it, and he knew he couldn’t hold up the barrier and his armor. Bellona grabbed Kyosu and pulled him back, Nero still on his back.

“We aren’t far from the lifeboats, he can catch up with us!” she shouted as she pulled him along. Emerald Knight began to run towards the barrier, the gunfire tearing into his armor. Where chunks fell off, a thin layer of emerald began to grow, but he knew it was a matter of time before it would be too far gone.

“Hold fire!”

The order was followed by the sound of another pair of boots against the steel floor, and Emerald Knight stopped in his place. He turned to see past the soldiers standing ahead of him. Further down the hallway walked a woman who towered over even the tallest of the soldiers, and even at this distance he had to turn his head to look up at her face comfortably. The soldiers did nothing as he stood there panting, their fingers trembling over the triggers.

The rest of the group was gone, leaving only him behind. But the sight of Admiral Lovecraft made even Emerald Knight shake slightly. He backed up until he was against the wall, his armor mending itself as his determination and adrenaline gave him the strength he needed.

“Emerald Knight, it’s been some time, no?” asked the owner of the voice as she walked over the bodies laying on the floor. The Admiral’s thin face was tinted red by the lights as she approached the group of her soldiers, and she shook her head. “We used to work together, and now you’re on the losing side – what a shame, too. There was a time you were a high candidate for Avalon Bay.”

“I don’t need you to tell me that I was – your associates made that clear.” Emerald Knight gave her a short smirk. “So, Jane, you’re an admiral at Avalon Bay now I see. When did that happen?”

“About a year ago – I suppose we haven’t talked since three years ago though.” There was a short pause, and Emerald Knight laughed out loud. The soldiers fidgeted and looked back towards the admiral, who put a hand on her hip and rose her eyebrow up. “What do you find so funny?”

“You’re too busy concentrating on me that the host is as good as gone,” he said with a short shrug. “And once my associates are gone with her, how will you find her again?”

“We have ways,” Jane Lovecraft said with a short and simple shrug. “Just as you have ways of countering us; I see you’ve already overcame our tranquilizer. It needs more work done, I suppose. I should have figured that you would be able to resist its influence.”

“So did you come down here just to talk to me, Jane? I’m flattered – although a bit let down. Your soldiers weren’t much of a challenge.” Emerald Knight put a hand up over his visor and pretended to yawn. He lowered his arms slightly but kept his hands up and balled into fists.

“I prefer talking to fighting,” Jane said with a short shrug, and then gave a short laugh. She waved her hands apart, and the soldiers obediently lined the walls – they put their rifles’ safeties on, and lowered their weapons. Slowly she walked through their midst as her eyes lit up, and rolled her head around. Her neck popped as her boots clanged, and her arms stretched back further and further, until at an angle that made her body become grotesque. “But you never did, did you?” she asked as she snapped her arms back to her front.

“No, I prefer to let my actions do the talking,” he said as he rose his fists up to just below his visor.

“Always the overly heroic,” the admiral said with a short smile. She flicked both fingers, and there was a sudden shift in the air around Emerald Knight. A wetness that seemed the pervade around his body, surrounding his skin even from inside the suit. His skin crawled at the sudden sensation, but he shoved that discomfort aside and lunged forward.

Before his fist crashed into Jane’s body he felt something pulling at his body itself. He let out a short shout before he was flung down to the ground, the strange liquid surrounding his body pulling him down. He struggled to pull himself up, but the force pulling him down was too strong. For every bit of energy he spent to push himself up, the liquid pulled him down with an equal amount.

“You aren’t even letting me put up a fair fight,” he muttered as he slid back across the floor and away from Jane. She smiled and put a finger up to her lips, only to make a gentle shushing noise as she walked towards the man.

“You should know, I’m anything but fair – although I’m giving you far more of a chance than I should, honestly,” she said as she looked down at Emerald Knight. “I could have finished you off already, you know.”

Emerald Knight laughed, and his suit’s back began to open various holes beneath him. A thick, clear liquid poured out and onto the metal floor, and suddenly Emerald Knight was able to pull himself up from the floor. Before Admiral Lovecraft had a chance to react, his fist was flinging through the air and towards her.

“Oof!” She stumbled backwards, her eyes began to glow harder as she glowered at Emerald Knight. She responded by creating, out of thin air, a staff made of solidified air. The soldiers on either side fidgeted as they watched Emerald Knight go in for another attack, but she blocked with the staff. She swung forward at him, and he blocked with his forearm.

“So you’ve still got some fighting skills that aren’t cheating,” he remarked.

“I thought you’d appreciate it,” Jane Lovecraft responded.

Emerald Knight kicked out at her and she swung the staff down at his shin, hitting it with a crack against the armor. The staff flickered out of reality before it appeared on the other side of his leg, though, and she pulled up as he pushed her back with the kick, forcing his knee up into the air. Emerald Knight jumped backwards but closed his leg down on the staff, bringing the admiral with him as he did so.

And then the staff disappeared into the air, causing Emerald Knight to fall backwards with a yelp. His cape stiffened as he fell, turning to lead as it crashed into the ground. He struggled to pull himself up with the weight, only managing to get himself to a sitting position before he found Admiral Lovecraft’s boots pushing him back down onto the ground.

She stood over Emerald Knight, a smile on her face as she looked down at him. Beneath her boot, his armor began to melt - no, dissolve - in the air, the molecules of the emeralds falling apart around him. He struggled to fight back with his power, to make his armor again, but it was to no use; Jane’s assault on a molecular level went beyond his abilities. In moments his torso was uncovered, the emeralds turned to dust. The arm and leg armor followed in suit, and he found himself unable to move as his skin touched the steel. A glance revealed that the steel under his body was beginning to turn into a sticky fluid.

“You know, it was rather risky of you to go and make a TV show about yourself, only to try something like this. We know everything about you,” Jane Lovecraft said as she stepped over Emerald Knight, his helmet the only part of him remaining on his person. “It might distract how seriously you’re taken by those who don’t know you... but then there’s me.”

There was a pause as Emerald Knight peered through his visor, looking up at the towering woman. He said nothing as she crouched down, his body struggling against the viscosity of the sticky floor. She put a hand on his visor, and ran a finger down its side. “You just as well finish me if you don’t want trouble,” he muttered, and she just shrugged.

“I know, but it’s tempting to take you for experimentation,” she said as she placed her fingers on the bottom of the visor. “It’s been so long since I’ve seen your face anyways, Emmett.”

Emerald Knight scowled as his helmet began to disintegrate beneath her fingers, falling apart as she traced her fingertips across it. In mere seconds, the hero was reduced to a practically naked man. Jane gave him a pat on the cheek before she stood back up, and looked into the hallway ahead.

“Oh, what a shame your associates never came to rescue you,” she taunted as she walked away from Emerald Knight. He glared at her before letting out a sudden shout again, his body sinking into the steel slowly. Her eyes flashed with a short glow again. “Maybe I’ll give you a fighting chance, for old time’s sake, though.”

He sank into the steel further before stopping, his body embedded into the steel itself. It solidified around him, and she turned around. A smile spread across her face. “On second thought, I don’t like to leave open lose ends.”

Emerald Knight screamed.

The group had managed to find the lifeboats unguarded, allowing them to escape on the sea itself. They huddled close together as the life boat drifted along the coast. The storm still surrounded them, but the eye was still on them this close to the ship.

Nero was leaning over the side of the boat, watching the water ripple off the boat, Kyosu on one side of her with a hand on her shoulder, keeping her from leaning too far over. Ariel sat with her knees against her chest, feet on the seat beside her and her head on her knees, while Nihilium and Raelyn sat behind her back. Bellona stood beside Kyosu, watching the ship as the lifeboat drifted forward slowly.

“Emerald Knight’s still on the ship,” Kyosu muttered as he turned to look at the ship. “What if he needs help?”

“I don’t think there’s anything we can do,” Bellona said as she watched the ship drift further and further away. The sea beneath her pushed the lifeboat silently, the rain began to fall into it the further from the USS Eldritch the lifeboat floated. “I mean... it’s not like they’d let us back on.”

Kyosu nodded as he watched the ship cutting through the water, and after some silent minutes he turned around to look at the group. “We need to stick together,” he said as his eyes wandered through the group. “I don’t know if Avalon Bay is going to be able to identify us or not now, but if they can... we’re going to be in trouble. We can’t split up and let them get us one at a time, and while we’re far from trained... if we can stick together, well, we have a chance together, right?”

“Stick together? What do you mean?” Ariel asked as she looked up at Kyosu slightly. “You mean like... an Avenging League or something?”

“Yeah, kind of,” Kyosu said with a short nod, and then glanced between the others. “But not with that name, obviously. We need a name that reflects that we’re Angel hosts, y’know?”

“Why are you focusing on the name so much, Kyosu?” Bellona asked with a weary sigh. “I get that you’re a nerd, but really, we can’t just make a name and become a group.”

“Well yeah, but a name is important – how do we be a proper group without one?” Kyosu asked back. Nihilium smirked and Bellona just rolled her eyes, before he continued. “What about the name Fallen Stars?”

“Not a bad one, but might need some work,” Nihilium said with a shrug. “What about a base of operations? We need to hide.”

“We could hide somewhere in the Black Hills,” Bellona said before Kyosu said anything further. He glanced at her and she continued, “Jacques, the guy who’s trying to claim it as his property, also took Kyosu’s Angel – if we can get his Angel back before finding a permanent location, we can move between multiple bases as needed.”

“So we’re going to rescue his Angel next?” Ariel asked, and Bellona nodded. “When we’re done with that, I want to find Christina. That’s the only reason I came here, I thought the host was her.”

“Yes,” Kyosu said with a nod. “We have to fight the good fight, that no one else will; wherever evil stands, the Fallen Stars will bring justice down on it!” he pointed upwards into the sky as he spoke, before swinging his arm back down and towards the bottom of the boat. “That’s the oath I swear today in Emerald Knight’s name, to be the man who he knew I could be, with or without powers!”

Ami Ikari shivered as she entered the cold room. Her breath was visible in front of her as she let out a soft “Brrrr...” and rubbed her hands together – it was colder than she had remembered the room being. She pulled a small, circular device from her pocket and held it in her palm, hand opened wide. In a flash, a tiny hologram of Morgana appeared in the air.

“So, you’re really going to do it?” she asked with a holographic hand on her holographic hip. “Talking to an ur-fravashi, who’d have thought that the new head researcher would do that?”

“Oh shush,” Ami said with a roll of her eye, and looked between the seven ANBs. She hesitated, before walking towards the one in the center. “Is there any particular reason that one is in the middle instead of in the ring?”

“The one in the middle? No, not that I’m aware of – it seems to be primarily based around making a symmetrical design,” Morgana responded as a wall of text floated beside her. “Nothing in the documents mentions any reason for this one being there, however.”

“Right,” Ami said with a short nod, and placed a hand on the cold metal of the ANB; she shivered again and paused slightly, before she continued walking along the steel container with a hand dragging across the surface. “Can you raise its temperature to the discussed levels?”

“Certainly,” Morgana said. The walls of text hovering around her flickered and moved across the holographic area. She pressed a virtual button with her full hand as Ami came around to the side of the central ANB with a small viewing glass.

A pair of eyes lit up in the darkness, and Ami pressed her forehead against the glass. She paused and began to pull her head back, but something compelled her to keep it there. With a flick of her finger, the display of Morgana vanished – just giving the AI enough time to protest about being shoved back into the scientist’s pocket again.

She stared into the eyes that lay inside the glass, and then she saw... she saw... darkness. A thousand pinpoints of light in the infinite darkness. No, not a thousand. Millions, billions, trillions, infinite pinpoints of light in an infinite field of darkness. The pinpoints soared past her as she felt an impossible cold, far colder than the room that she stood in actually was.

One of the pinpoints grew in the darkness as she watched it approach, and slowly a small, tan dot began to form in the distance. She realized now that the ur-fravashi was showing her the Universe, but in particular showing her... she wasn’t sure what planet. It was a gas giant, she knew that much, but she couldn’t recognize the swirls of reds, greens, and blues.

“What are you showing me?” she whispered, unsure if it was out loud or simply in her mind.

I am showing you my homeworld, Ami, child of the planet Earth,” responded an impossible voice, high and low at the same time. “I am Metatron, the Celestial Scribe, child of the planet Fravash.” The clouds of the gas giant below swirled in impossible patterns, as if the laws of physics themselves were altered by the forces of the beings who lived within its atmosphere.

And then, the planet was whipped away back into the infinite recesses of space. Pinpoints filled her view of vision, and she was speechless as thousands of worlds passed by in seconds. “There is much to be said, little time to say it. I fear the truth will drive you mad, so I will show you only a fragment of what is coming – for it is a threat that even my people cannot face alone. Behold, child of Earth, the coming danger.

And then she saw the incomprehensible. Her mind tried to twist itself around the images that came through her link with Metatron, but to no avail; the next moment the image was gone, replaced by the infinite darkness.

“Wh-wh-what is th-this?” she stammered out when the singular moment of time in which she saw the incomprehensible force was over. There was a pause.

Fire is coming, child of Earth.

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